PRIDE does not open any new doors in the genre of film biopics of teachers who raise the status of downtrodden students to the point of genuine appreciation of self worth. The story has been told countless times with different characters, both male and female, different races (African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, etc), and different areas of the United States. But despite the recurring similarity of heart-on-the-sleeve stories such as this, PRIDE stands solidly on its own merits, in part due to the well developed and written screenplay by Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, J. Mills Goodloe, and Norman Vance Jr. based on the life and contributions to society of Jim Ellis, in part due to the sensitive direction of Sunu Gonera, and in part due to the fine cast. The idea behind the story may not be new, but PRIDE is a fine example of the genre.
Opening in the 1960s we meet Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) as a superior swimmer unable to use his gifts because of his race. Jump 10 years forward and Ellis has finished college as a math major and seeks to teach in Philadelphia, only to face racism again. Desperate for work he accepts a 'closing down' job at a condemned Philadelphia Recreation Center tended by downtrodden Elston (Bernie Mac) who resents Ellis' intrusion into his domain. Ellis restores the center's swimming pool and gradually initiates a swim team for troubled teens, young boys and a girl who are new to swimming and even newer to the thought that they can become someone important and rise out of their slum surroundings and influence of drug lords. With time Ellis teaches the team not only how to swim like champions, but also how to gain faith in themselves through PDR (Pride, Determination, Resilience), eventually winning a championship as a team of African Americans in a city still plagued by racism.
The cast is excellent: Terrence Howard once again proves he can create a character of complete credibility, completely immersing himself in a role with all of the subtle facilities of fine acting; Bernie Mac at last is given a serious role and rises to the level of Howard in skill; Kimberly Elise and Tom Arnold provide fine cameo roles. But one of the treasures of this film is the cast of young actors who seem so natural that they deserve special plaudits: Brandon Fobbs, Alphonso McAuley, Regine Nehy, Nate Parker, Kevin Phillips, and Evan Ross. Clint Eastwood's son Scott Reeves plays a pivotal role as a racist swimmer.
So despite the overexposure of stories such as this, PRIDE stands out as one of the best. It is a beautifully filmed and well-developed homage to a very worthy man and coach: PDR. Grady Harp
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